Impulse Buy Theater - Lifeforce
How I spent my drunken New Year’s Eve: Part 1
Directed by Tobe Hooper, fresh off of the success of Poltergeist. Written by Dan O’Bannon, some years removed from Alien and yet to write Total Recall. Special effects by John Dykstra, who worked on a little film called Star Wars, but also has a very storied career. Music by Henry Mancini. I mean, for a mid-1980’s science fiction film, this is sounding more and more like the All-Star game, isn’t it? And yet, if it wasn’t for the efforts of Shout Factory, this film, Lifeforce, would be very hard to find. Is it worth tracking down?
Short version, yes, yes it is. But you’re not here for the short version. [And, despite my threshold for pain, you’re contractually obligated to provide the long version…so get on with it. – Ed.] This’ll mark one of the few times we go into a sports analogy here on the site. Have you ever heard about one of those sports teams that puts together this amazing amount of talent, yet somehow manages to underperform? I want to say that’s what happens here…but that’s not really true. What ends up happening in this movie is that we get this team that should make an A-list blockbuster…a potential classic for the ages…and well…we DO get a classic for the ages in my opinion…but it ends up being THE ULTIMATE B-MOVIE EVER. That’s not a slam, mind you, we’re Impulse Buy Theater here, it’s quite possibly the highest praise we can rain down on it…but this is going to limit your mainstream appeal…and that’s exactly what happened to Lifeforce upon its initial release and still kinda hangs around its throat to this day.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First off would be the source material for the movie. Not the quality of the material, mind you. Though I haven’t read it (yet), the wiki entry for the novel sounds perfectly fine…it’s the title of the novel itself: The Space Vampires. That…that just kinda screams schlocky paperback novel written sometime between the 50s and the 70s, right? And seeing that in the opening credits, even though, again, I knew nothing of the source material itself save for that name, well, it helped to lower my expectations down a bit. But nothing in the opening credits lowers expectations like seeing the following: A Golan-Globus Production. And if that’s not your first reaction of seeing those names open your movie, you’re simply not a child of the 80s VHS heyday. Going deeper into that would lengthen this review considerably, so instead allow me to point you to a documentary that will convey everything you need to know in a far better manner than I could – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It is necessary to mention this documentary because that’s how I came upon this film. Actually, I remembered this film from my youth…or at least the marketing, but I’d not seen it prior to tracking down the disc. I won’t get into what made me want to track down this disc just yet…let’s just say that once you read all the Impulse Buy Theater entries that cover my drunken New Year’s viewing, you’ll see a singular theme. [And, I have to admit, it takes some courage to post on the internet that you really are just a sad little man. – Ed.]
The story is certainly rooted in its time…as the events are set into motion by a NASA/ESA joint space venture to gather data from Halley’s Comet. Yeah, I know I’m dating myself, but man…was there a LOT of hoopla about that when it happened! So…right…Halley’s Comet…anyway, our astronauts find a large spaceship hidden in the coma around the comet and opt to go in to investigate. This goes as well as one would expect if you’re a veteran of the genre. Living up to the source material, we do indeed get our Space Vampires, draining life energy as opposed to blood, again, just like in the source material and hey, making that title seem pertinent, huh? Yeah, so last survivor of doomed expedition is the key to stopping them after containment efforts fail…nothing new there…twist ending that’ll make you roll your eyes, mutter “bullshit” then rewatch as you see ham-handed clues sprinkled throughout the movie. With that said in such a way…why on earth would I recommend this? A few reasons. First of all, as I may or may not have admitted in past reviews, the special effects, though dated, still have a good, hand-crafted feel to them. The 80s largely marked the end of the old way of accomplishing special effects, that of everything needing to be in the camera lens. As you move forward in time, especially by 1990 and beyond, this movies effects were going to seem quaint in the face of new technologies…and while it would still exceed what would be seen in standard B-movie fare…well, one could argue that even now the effects outshine current B-movie fare (seriously, compare this to the giant monster versus other giant monster movie of the week on SyFy…). My point here is good, bad or dated, this is a film that is undeniably crafted…and it shows onscreen. You gotta give ‘em a cookie for that. Hand in hand with that, sometimes the scale of what they were trying to accomplish in a B-movie is certainly beyond them…and thus in many cases the end product ends up looking silly. Not so here. This was a valiant effort and, yeah, they do end up falling short a little but that falling short actually imbues a quaint charm to it all. Plus, you can see echoes of this film in films that would come later, such as I Am Legend and 28 Days Later. Lifeforce is an ambitious movie…and while it may fall short of some of its loftier goals, there’s nothing that shatters the illusion the movie tries to create. If anything, with Hollywood’s current ‘remake-o-rama’, I’ll be first to admit that Lifeforce would actually benefit from such a treatment.
IF. And that's a big IF.
IF they can find a suitable update to the character played by Mathilda May. You see, my first recent exposure to the film was from the aforementioned documentary, where the film clip they show of Lifeforce is of May’s character rising up from the autopsy table they have her placed on…and be warned, this paragraph is going to be replete with Joe-Bob-isms…completely nekkid. And that’s the way she spends the majority of the film. And…just…wow. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore…if you know what I mean and I think you do. I mean…yeah, they MAKE ‘em like that…but more often than not it’s not au natural. Ahem…so, yeah, Drive-In award nominations there. But hey, come for the boobs, stay for the acting! [Too late man…nothing after that little mini-rant about her chest is going to save you from sounding like the perv you are…just saying. – Ed.] Well, okay, maybe it’s not acting acting…but the way she moves throughout the film has a precise and almost alien quality to it…and it does add some depth to the character.
The remainder of the cast is serviceable if not memorable…no one shatters the illusion…mostly. The lead, Steve Railsback as Col. Tom Carlsen, is mostly fine…although there are times where his acting extends into that realm of overacting reserved for one William Shatner. Again, in what would seem to be a negative is in fact a positive…it helps to elevate the proceedings from average A-list movie to AWESOME B-movie. Patrick Stewart makes an appearance and performs his role as you would expect Patrick Stewart to. In all honesty, for me, he’s in the movie simply as a nerd gateway. It goes like this:
“Hey, did you ever see Lifeforce?” “Nope.” “Check it out, it’s got Patrick Stewart in it.” “Oh. Okay. Cool.” (Because they remember his turns as Capt. Picard or Charles
Xavier and think, ‘Hey, if they got Patrick Stewart involved, it can’t be all bad,
It’s honestly a fairly small role…but don’t tell that to anyone you’re going to recommend the movie to. If they don’t have any interest in nearly-perfect breasts, they might need the nerd gateway carrot to be dangled in front of them to get them through the first part of the movie. Oh, there was one guy I enjoyed and wished had more screen time, the Van-Helsing-type in this movie, Frank Finlay as Dr. Hans Fallada…a scientist that’s maybe just a little too interested in the subject of death. He nails the part of being smart and a little creepy…with maybe just a hint of smartass…or maybe we should call it gallows humor, that might be more applicable. Having him in the film more probably wouldn’t have served the narrative…but he was someone that was always a welcomed sight.
Enough rambling, go check this out. If you’re into what we’ve watched so far on Impulse Buy Theater, it’s a no-brainer you’ll like this. If we go by the 3-B’s, beasts, breasts and blood, this one’s got ‘em all. It’s got vampires, it’s got zombies, space, a creepy spaceship, a really, really nice rack [Stop that. – Ed.] and it’s got heart. I don’t know what it is…but you can kinda tell that everyone behind the scenes was doing their level best for this movie…but with the budgets famously associated with Cannon Films and their heads, Golan and Globus…it’s that heart that takes this from being an average A-list movie with its seams showing and almost instantly dated to being, again, what I feel to be one of the best unintentional B-movies of all time. It’s just good old fashioned movie fun.
And did I mention her…[YES! ENOUGH ALREADY! – Ed.]